The chickens open their mouths in alarm and stand stock still as Millie shoots out the door, starting her day with a raucous round of barking. While she busies herself behind the oil tank, Sam and I carry on with our usual daily chores before our pack of three head down the track for a walk and the chance to marvel at the dawn chorus.
During the day, people walk past and dogs come up to the gate. Millie wags her tail, never making so much as a peep. But at night time, when everything is done and we let the dogs out for one last “hurrah”, Sam sniffs the perimeter of the yard and Millie races over to the oil tank, closing her day with an encore of protective barking.
What is this all about? For the past few days, she has been persistent in this behaviour. Millie will not let you rake leaves or sweep a floor without the odd little yelp, but she is not a big barker. She watches the rugby on TV. She bites at your boots if you kick dirt, snow or leaves and she happily chases rabbits and squirrels out of the garden. Unless we are out on a walk, she will run inside if the wind is too strong, but not before rounding up leaves as they soar past. She’s a chaser, not a fighter.
A quick investigation reveals her concern: we have a resident badger. Over the years, we have had neighbouring badgers and evidence of their nocturnal visits— track marks, holes with badger poo (yes, they dig little latrines and then shit in them). About four years ago, I had a rare sighting late one late one night and watched the badger in all of its black and white splendour slowly pass through the yard. They have killed some of our chickens, damaged our bird feeders, and caused us to make adjustments to the chicken coop, which now has the equivalent security of Fowl Knox. But now, there is a tunnel opening in the hillside about twenty feet from our front door.
We don’t mind if they want to “sett” up their household and include us in their territory. Badgers mostly eat earthworms, insects and grubs. That’s agreeable to us, despite how pathetic the grass looks as a result. Sometimes they dig up and eat roots and fruit, but with our efforts to protect the garden beds from the rabbits, the badgers are not a problem. They will sometimes eat small mammals and birds, including chickens but our chickens are safe and secure at night behind multiple layers of wire defence. As to the other small mammals — rats and moles — we have no concern about this level of predation.
Badgers are notoriously shy and elusive and will scurry off if disturbed by us, so making a big noise as we open the front door should keep Millie safe. But the fact that she runs over to the badger’s door, barking an invitation to come out and play or go away, might make the badger inside feel trapped. And feeling trapped could make it lash out in a bid for freedom. Millie frightening an animal with long claws and a jaw powerful enough to crush bones doesn’t bear contemplating.
Besides, we welcome critters to Crockern — the more the merrier — however, there are a few conditions for this happy republic:
- Rabbits, you are to stay out of the vegetable beds. To this, there are no if’s, and’s, or but’s.
- Mice, rats, moles and squirrels are welcome, but you must stay outside and not chew anything of value.
- Birds can nest where you like, but try to not shit on the cars or our heads. Jackdaws please be warned, the chimney will be repaired in about a month’s time, so hanging out there won’t be easy with the new chimney pots.
- Foxes and badgers we welcome you, but you must stay away from the chickens. If you’re hungry, consider the abundance of rabbits, rats, mice, squirrels and such.
- Bees, spiders and bugs are invited to the Crockern party. We love how you help the flora and fauna.
- Lichens and mosses, snakes, frogs and toads you are all welcome, too.
- Bats, you are always encouraged.
- But, unwanted solicitations from sales reps, religious organisations, etc. are not welcome.
Without seeming rude, how do we encourage the badger to move house to something more private and maybe a little further afield? This door is just too close for comfort. The hillside is located under tree roots which were exposed decades ago when this bit of the property was excavated. Our oil tanks are located there. The land is slowly eroding, and we need to build a retaining wall. The badger is not helping our progress.
Our research reveals that badgers do not like the smell of urine near the opening to their home. I couldn’t agree more. Clearly, the logistics of dousing the full garden boundary in human urine are tricky, so we’ve gone for a focused approach: Roger has taken to peeing near the badger’s tunnel door.
We think this may be just a brief badger visit. After about a week, there is just the single hole and it is too close to our activities and front door for a relaxing badger lifestyle. Still, Roger pees outside and Millie continues to announce her arrival outside to one and all with her barking song. I encourage Sam and Millie to pee in various places to keep the foxes on alert. Me? I prefer to avail myself of the toilet.